With schools having to radically adapt for safety this past year, parents and educators were rightfully concerned about the academic experiences of their children and students.
Perhaps the biggest concern was about gaps in learning. As a result, there have been, in some cases, Herculean efforts by schools and teachers to try and ensure students acquire the skills they need, pandemic or not.
The questions that are arising more recently are about the less obvious, but no less essential, experiences that contribute to student growth and experiences. Teams, clubs, and extra-curriculars of all sorts are slowly starting to come back in adapted form for many. However, the many students that have life-altering and life-affirming experiences as creative and performing artists have had to wait all-too-patiently.
“With COVID circumstances right now, it is ever-so-important to stay connected through our love for music,” says Markville Secondary School grade 11 music student Kara Yang.
Indeed, the staff and students at Markville are finished waiting and have taken matters into their own, well washed, hands. This January their lauded musical theatre program will present its first all-online musical; a production of Annie JR. based on the popular comic strip and adapted from the Tony Award-winning best musical.
Annie JR. tells the story of a spunky Depression-era orphan determined to find her parents.
Tickets are available now for “performances” on January 8 and 9.
“I hope we bring people together and help them feel a part of a community and maintain a sense of normal during these unprecedented times,” continues Yang who will take on the title role.
The concept of an online musical is certainly a new, if appropriate, one for the current time. Music teachers Will Stokes and Graham Langdale, the director and music director respectively, invented a staging and a format that allows each performer to record their performances remotely so that they can be brought together afterward and presented alongside their castmates.
“The best thing about an online musical is that you get as many chances as you want,” says Megan Keehl, one of the shows “Orphans.” “When on stage, you get one shot; in our case, you get to record, and re-record, until you are completely satisfied with your work.”
It was a completely new way of working for these dedicated students that brought some unique challenges too.
“I’ve found lighting to be the biggest challenge,” says Lauren Martin, another of the show’s “Orphans.” “Setting up a three-point lighting system with a bunch of lamps in my dining room has proven to be difficult. It’s sometimes hard to achieve the professional look that we’re aiming for.”
“There have been times when I felt satisfied with a scene,” adds Yang, “only to realize that there was an issue with the camera and it wasn’t recording the whole time.”
Once the technical learning curves were overcome, these young performers still had to face the work of perfecting their performances. An impressive task for a young person in any show, but made all-the-more complicated in an online setting.
“The most challenging part for me is having to perform with my co-stars while not being in the same room as them,” explains Allen Ng, who’s playing “Warbucks.” “The chemistry you see in live theatre is not very easy to recreate in recorded video, but our amazing teacher/director, Mr. Stokes, helped find ways to break those barriers.”
Of course, the work of teachers driving their students to successes has long been the story of what great programs like the one at Markville are. Here’s hoping that teachers who, even in 2020, find ways to make things happen for their students are well seen and well remembered by their communities.
Perhaps the best way to support opportunities like this is to buy a ticket and check out their work.
“Making the performing arts accessible is something that means a lot to me,” continues Ng, “so giving people the opportunity to see our show this year from the comfort of home makes me incredibly happy. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to really appreciate the hard work our teachers put in to make this come to life.”
Showtimes are Friday, January 8 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, January 9 at 2 p.m., and Saturday, January 9 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for this event are $1.95, which will cover the cost of royalties and service fees.
Picture: The cast of Annie JR rehearsing their online musical
Top photo: left to right: Kara Yang (Annie), Allen Ng (Warbucks)
Middle photo: clockwise from left: Amani Khan, Lauren Martin, Megan Keehl, Sena Ip, Ylenia Wilson, Elise Wong
Bottom photo – clockwise from left: Amani Khan, Will Stokes “Director,” Megan Keehl, Sena Ip, Lauren Martin, Elise Wong